Giving a dramatic account of the suffering she saw in Kurdish refugee camps in Turkey and Iran, Lynda Chalker, the overseas development minister, yesterday told the House of Commons that relief supplies to Iran had to be doubled without delay. She also announced an immediate initial contribution of Pounds 2 million from the Pounds 20 million pledged by the prime minister.
She said that relief flights to Iran would double to four a week and that the British Red Cross and the Save The Children Fund were to set up a center for 150,000 refugees that would distribute relief, initially for three months.
Shortly after the minister addressed the House, the Turkish government told leading Western relief organizations, including the Red Cross, to stop operating out of Diyarbakir. Instead, planes will go to Incirlik, near Adana, a six-hour drive away. The Turkish government also announced its own plan for dealing with the 400,000 refugees stranded along its border. Hayri Kozakcioglu, the regional governor of the southeast, suggested at a press conference yesterday that the refugees be resettled directly in their own towns and villages. The scheme would allow them to be resettled quickly without the need for a“half-way house” of large refugee camps. British and French troops joined American colleagues in setting up the safe havens on the border as Mrs Chalker told the Commons that there were more than 1.2 million Iraqi refugees in Iran. Many thousands more were waiting to cross the border.
Already, Britain has supplied 160 tons of aid in western Azerbaijan and was helping the Iranian Red Crescent society in relief efforts at 55 camps in the region.
Mrs Chalker said that conditions were horrendous. “The health of women and children is particularly at risk because of unclean water, no sanitation, limited health care and irregular food distribution. In the mosque at one camp, the first point of arrival, whole families lie huddled together in row upon row with no facilities at all. They move on into tents, where they have a little more space but where ground dampness makes the problem of extreme cold at night much worse.”
Later, at a press conference, the minister criticized the United Nations. Today she will travel from Paris to New York with Javier Perez de Cuellar, the UN secretary-general, and will try to persuade him that the UN should do far more to organize relief and take on its humanitarian responsibilities. She was critical that it had sent only a handful of officials to the capitals of the countries where refugees have fled. Britain’s efforts were costing Pounds 3 million a week and Mrs Chalker said she would find the money one way or another “even from the Treasury”.
Douglas Hogg, the junior minister at the Foreign Office, yesterday met a group of Iraqi opposition leaders to discuss British commitment to the establishment of safe havens on the eve of a meeting in Geneva where he will urge the UN to make greater efforts to co-ordinate the relief operation in northern Iraq.
Mr Hogg will tell Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, who has been asked by the UN secretary-general to co-ordinate international relief, that Britain hopes the UN can take over the operation being run by American, British, French, Dutch and Italian troops. Britain does not believe a new UN resolution is necessary. It wants a convergence of the efforts to set up camps and distribution points to be merged with a properly organized international plan.